Hitler avoids facing his own troops

A large troop convoy on its way to North Africa.

Among the few people who might be described as personal friends of Hitler was Albert Speer. As one of his favourite architects Speer had accompanied Hitler on his brief tour of Paris in 1940. With the sudden death of Todt in early 1942 Hitler had appointed Speer as his Armaments Minister. It seemed to be almost an arbitrary choice of someone with no government experience – but it proved to be a good one because Speer soon established himself as very energetic and effective in this role.

Speer’s close personal ties with Hitler and his new role meant that he had very close access to him. Eventually his memoir was to paint a very candid picture of Hitler and how his attitude to the war began to change:

On the afternoon of November 7, 1942, I accompanied Hitler to Munich in his special train. These journeys were a favorable occasion to draw Hitler into the necessary but time-consuming consideration of general armaments questions. This special train was equipped with radio, teletype machines, and a telephone switchboard. Jodl and some members of the General Staff had joined Hitler.

The atmosphere was tense. We were already many hours late, for at every sizable station a prolonged stop was made in order to connect the telephone cable with the railroad telegraph system, so we could get the latest reports. From early moming on a mighty armada of transports, accompanied by large naval units, had been passing through the Strait of Gibralter into the Mediterranean.

In earlier years Hitler had made a habit of showing himself at the window of his special train whenever it stopped. Now these encounters with the outside world seemed undesirable to him; instead, the shades on the station side of the train would be lowered.

Late in the evening we sat with Hitler in his rosewood-paneled dining car. The table was elegantly set with silver flatware, cut glass, good china, and flower arrangements. As we began our ample meal, none of us at first saw that a freight train was stopped on the adjacent track. From the cattle car bedraggled, starved, and in some cases wounded German soldiers, just returning from the east, stared at the diners. With a start, Hitler noticed the somber scene two yards from his window.

Without as much as a gesture of greeting in their direction, he peremptorily ordered his servant to draw the shades. This, then, in the second half of the war, was how Hitler handled a meeting with ordinary front-line soldiers such as he himself had once been.

At every station along the way the number of reported naval units rose. An enterprise of vast proportions was obviously afoot. Finally the units passed through the Strait. All the ships reported by our air reconnaissance were now moving eastward in the Mediterranean. “This is the largest landing operation that has ever taken place in the history of the world,” Hitler declared in a tone of respect, perhaps taking pride that he was the cause of enterprises of such magnitude. Until the following morning the landing fleet remained north of the Moroccan and Algerian coast.

See Albert Speer: Inside The Third Reich.

As more of the reports came in during the night Hitler speculated about where the landings would take place. He thought they may be invading Italy, where there were virtually no troops available to oppose them. This would lead to regime change in Italy and would strangle the supply route to Rommel’s forces in Africa. Alternatively he thought they might be headed to southern France, where once again he had few forces available to oppose them.

Hitler with his Armaments Minister Albert Speer after he had appointed him to the position, in March 1942.

A Nazi train, possibly Hitler’s personal train, ‘Amerika’.

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